SAD 61 looks to cut $200,000

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

How big of a cut will it take to pass the SAD 61 budget?

Following last week’s rejection of the $26 million proposal, which represented a 3.6% increase, school board members attempted to decipher what was the mindset of taxpayers as all four district towns voted down the budget.

Director Richard Merritt of Sebago reported that folks he talked with at Jordan Store suggested that the $125,000 pulled from the maintenance account to cover unexpected PCB removal at Lake Region High School should be subtracted from renovation project funds. Merritt agreed, feeling the budget could be reduced by the $125,000 and existing student programming would not be impacted.

Director Donna Norton of Casco warned fellow board members that unless a significant cut was made, a similar result could occur. Citing how Casco would have been hit with a 13% hike if the previous budget passed, Norton has heard from a number of residents that they simply can’t afford the steep increase. Norton suggested a possible cut target of $300,000.

Bridgton Director Leslie Niemy, however, remained unconvinced the vote spoke truly about how most taxpayers feel since just 853 residents turned out to the polls last Tuesday.

“I’m not sure what percentage of voters turned out, but that number (853) seems like there is a lot of apathy out there,” she said. “When only 853 people vote, that says a lot to me about what is happening in our school district.”

A member of the public attending Monday’s meeting at Lake Region High School echoed Niemy’s comment, saying “That’s a sad number.”

Two expenses that drove the proposed budget to a $900,000 increase were the first payment on the LRHS renovation project ($705,000) and an anticipated spike in health insurance premiums. The district had budgeted for a 6% increase, but the actual figure came in at 6.5% (which means the new amount adds $17,000).

Bridgton Director Laura Ordway said folks she talked with were somewhat “confused” regarding where cuts could be made. Some suggested that teachers take a pay and benefit cut. Ordway pointed out that those areas were out-of-bounds since pay and benefits were set through contract negotiations. Ordway said the board needed to simplify information being sent out to taxpayers. She also helped set a proposed cut target by reminding taxpayers that they voted for the high school renovation project, and must pay the bill.

With that premise in mind, Ordway recommended a reduction of $200,000 — which was reached based on the overall increase of the recently rejected proposal ($905,000) minus the debt service payment on the high school project ($705,000).

Before the meeting closed, the $200,000 figure dropped to $115,000 as directors learned that the 8th Grade Transition program had been scaled back by one teacher, reducing that line by $45,000. An additional $40,000 was trimmed from the retirement incentive line. Superintendent Patrick Phillips will ask his Leadership Team to find other areas to cut to reach the new target. Those recommendations will be presented to the school board this Monday night, June 6 at 7 p.m. at Lake Region High School.

Although the school board did not officially open Monday’s meeting to public comment, Robert Levesque of Casco did offer a statement for officials to consider.

Levesque, who sponsored a series of advertisements before the referendum recommending a “no” vote on the budget, reiterated that SAD 61 has one of the highest per pupil costs in the state.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” he said. “You have more work to do.”

The public will be able to comment on recommendations at Monday’s meeting.

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